Arab Americans Run for Office Around The Nation

On Tuesday, November 3, millions of Americans will go to the polls to elect their local, state and national representatives Dozens of Arab American candidates are running for spots all over the nation. In order to aid their efforts, such organizations as the Arab American Institute (AAI) and the Arab American Leadership PAC (AALPAC) have been working to educate voters about the candidates and to raise funds to support qualified candidates in their respective races. On October 27, Al-Hewar Center in Vienna, Virginia, hosted a discussion Dr. James Zogby, President of AAI, who talked about the role of Arab Americans in the upcoming elections.

Congressional members seeking re-election include Representatives John Elias Baldacci [D-ME], Pat Danner [D-MO], Chris John [D-LA], Ray LaHood [R-IL], Nick Rahall [D-WV], and John E. Sununu [D-NH]. First-time congressional candidates include Phillip J. Maloof, the Democratic candidate for New Mexico's first congressional district, and Leslie A. Touma, the Republican candidate for Michigan's 12th district.

Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, is seeking reelection for a second term as the governor of New Hampshire. Dozens of Arab Americans are also running in local races for state legislatures, judgeships and mayoral and city council spots.

As part of its campaign to "get the word out" the AAI has released its "Vote '98 Congressional Score Card" which lists the voting records of all members of Congress on issues significant to Arab Americans on domestic and foreign matters. The score card helps to evaluate candidates based on their voting patterns with respect to these issues. The score card is also important because it helps the Arab and Muslim communities find those candidates who vote consistently in favor of their important issues. It also shows that not all Arab American members of Congress necessarily vote in favor of those issues.

In the Washington, D.C. area, AALPAC hosted a reception on September 10 to honor the members of Congress who have earned the respect and support of the Arab community, including the Arab American congressional delegation. Guests of honor included Representatives David E. Bonior, John Conyers, Nick Rahall, Dale Kildee, James Moran, Pat Danner, John Baldacci, Tom Davis III, Ray LaHood, Jesse Jackson Jr., Chris John, Ciro Rodriguez and John E. Sununu.

AAI and several other Arab American organizations also hosted a Virginia Candidates Night Reception on September 20, featuring congressional candidates Rep. James P. Moran and Mrs. Demaris Miller of the 8th District and Cornell Brooks, Esq. of the 10th District (who is challenging Rep. Frank Wolf), and Rep. Tom Davis III of the 11th District. The forum was part of AAI's Vote '98 program, a national, non-partisan campaign to register voters, educate Arab Americans about campaign issues, increase political activism in the community and get people out to the polls.

Vote '98 was kicked off at AAI's national leadership conference which included addresses by President Clinton, more than 30 Congressional leaders and numerous candidates for public office.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) hosted "The Muslims of America and the 1998 Elections" on September 28. The conference featured presenters Sulayman Nyang, professor of African Studies at Howard University and Atif Harden, Executive Director of the American Muslim Council.

At this point, the outcome of the elections are anybody's guess. In his September 28, 1998 Washington Watch, Dr. Zogby wrote:

"Most analysts predict that the 1998 elections will feature the lowest voter turnout in decades. This is also a factor in both parties' political strategies. Since 1974, the non-presidential year voter turnout has been less than 40 percent. This year the numbers may be as low as 33 percent. There are two reasons for this. On the one hand voters are somewhat complacent. The economy is good, crime is low and the national mood is at a three decade high. Complacent voters don't vote.

"At the same time, other voters are so disillusioned and disgusted by the political mess in Washington that they have 'tuned out' of politics...

"Between now and November anything can happen. Republicans can over-play their hand, the President and Democrats can be hurt by new disclosures, local or national media can decide to focus on issues and create a debate on the direction of the country, or any number of things can happen on the local level to influence the outcome of a number of individual races..."

Disturbed by a recent upsurge in anti-Arab and anti-Muslim tactics employed by some candidates and officials, a broad range of ethnic organizations has responded by launching "Call for Fairness and Inclusion," a national campaign to promote fair and inclusive political discourse. Currently, 28 national ethnic organizations have joined the campaign, which was prompted by the recent experience of Arab American candidate Sarkis Joseph Khoury in California's 43rd congressional district. Khoury, a conservative Republican, had a strong primary campaign until his opponent, Rep. Ken Calvert and his surrogates resorted to Arab baiting. During the final days of the campaign, Khoury's opponents not only questioned his loyalty to the United States because he is a naturalized citizen but also described Arab American support of Khoury as a "foreign attempt" to buy influence.

Zogby and ADC Dr. Hala Maksoud joined other ethnic leaders on October 14 to launch "Call for Fairness and Inclusion" and to release a "Statement of Concern" which has been endorsed by more than 30 organizations.

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